With its high poverty levels and low degree of industrialization, Africa arguably faces the largest development gap of any region. Beyond the usual misery indices and welfare evaluation metrics, we have fundamental challenges that impede meaningful sustainable development. Energy is an incontrovertible challenge across sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).
Data from the World Bank and International Energy Agency (IEA) on energy poverty does not make for good visuals. Two out of three of SSA households—585 million people—live without electricity. In stark contrast, 99 percent of North African households have electricity supply. Only 14 percent of rural SSA households are linked to the grid. This compares unfavourably with Latin America where 74 percent of rural households are connected to power. The figures mask a more disturbing fact about electricity supply in most SSA countries: a high frequency of blackouts and unstable power supply. The World Bank estimates that SSA households experienced 91 days of blackouts in 2007.
Beyond low electrification, energy poverty extends into inefficient and perilous forms of domestic energy for cooking attributable to a lack of modern fuels and clean cookers. According to IEA reports, more than 80% of SSA households—653 million people—use biomass for cooking, with devastating consequences for people and the environment. In 2009, more than 1.45 million African lives were lost to household pollution caused by inefficient biomass cooking stoves. Fewer people died from malaria.